Lunch in the Loop: Westminster Hot Dog
Editor's Note: Whether you're a tourist or an office worker in downtown Chicago, you can get sick of eating at chain restaurants all day. So we've started a series to get you the lowdown on where to find a great and affordable lunch.
It's easy to miss Westminster Hot Dog on this stretch of Wells. The storefront is practically hidden under the Loop 'L' tracks, and to get there, you have to brave the dense population of pigeons that nestle in the tracks above you (if you're in a suit or a dress, "pigeon bombs" are a legitimate threat, so beware!). But if you're aching for Hot Doug's and getting out to Avondale is an impossibility, Westminster Hot Dog aims to fill that wiener shaped hole deep within your wild, unbridled spirit.
Whenever I see steak sausages, I am immediately drawn to them. Can one truly capture the essence of steak within a tubular casing? This is a heavy question that man has struggled with...forever. The Steak Fromage ($6.50, on the left) is covered in silky melted Boursin cheese, which adds a welcoming velvety texture and slightly herbed creaminess to the steak sausage. It's accompanied with a blueberry-colored cabernet reduction, which sadly, doesn't add much flavor even when tasted by itself. But does the steak sausage itself hold up?
I hate to say it, but it doesn't. The grind on the sausage is fairly fine, making for a tight and chewy sausage that has the right beef flavor, but suffers from being too dense. The real problem is that the beef is lean, rendering the whole sausage dry. Even the rich Boursin and cabernet sauce can't save the sausage. The Philly ($6.25) also suffers from the same issue. The grilled onion and green pepper blanketed in provolone brings the right flavors, but the sausage just doesn't step up.
The Italian ($5.00, on the right) is much better. The fennel-flecked pork sausage is also a tight grind, but in this case, its fat content brings a lot more moisture. The sun-dried tomato pesto resembles and tastes like a concentrated marinara sauce, but there isn't nearly enough. As you can see from the photo, the cheese is barely melted, which is disappointing.
In my mind, the true measure of any good Chicago dog joint is their Chicago dog ($2.75, on the left). This one comes on the poppyseed bun with all the requisite condiments and is a natural-casing hot dog, but the dog itself lacks a sharp snap.
The chili cheese fries ($3.50) are a must. These are frozen crinkle-cut fries that aren't exciting by themselves, but the ground beef chili is packed with a boldly concentrated tomato flavor. Combined with the melted cheddar, these addictive fries are worth burning the roof of your mouth over.
Westminster Hot Dog
31 S. Wells, Chicago IL 60602 (map)
About the author: After a failed attempt at starqting a chain of theme restaurants called "Smellen Keller," Dennis Lee traveled the world to discover his true passion. Sadly, midwifery didn't pan out. Now he works in a cubicle, and screws around as much as possible. Follow his shenanigans on Twitter.